Is Sundance Film Festival 2012 a Bust?

By Roger Friedman I was sorry to miss this year’s Sundance Film Festival–my first absence in eons. But from all reports it’s kind of a fizzle, with most of the films not working out they were expected. So far sources tell me “Abritrage,” Nick Jarecki’s film with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon has done well. It will probably be the only big studio purchase, based on its names and production values. “Robot and Frank” with Frank Langella is said to be charming but no blockbuster. Joe Berlinger’s “Under African Skies,” about Paul Simon‘s “Graceland” reunion, has nice reviews.

But by and large, this year’s festival seems like it was overstuffed with documentaries and very low on films with any potential sizzle. A Bradley Cooper movie sold to CBS Films. (No one is sure what CBS Films is; they bought a Lasse Hallstrom movie last year that’s never come out.)

The big news from Sundance after the first four crucial days? Tracy Morgan was hospitalized for altitude sickness-not attitude. The very popular and lovely exec Bingham Ray apparently is in another hospital with a stroke. (We are sending you best wishes.) The police shut down a private party hosted by WME.

But otherwise, the main players–Weinstein, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, and Paramount –have been silent. Sundance runs in cycles, so this year may be the low trend. It was bound to happen. Meanwhile, I keep getting endless emails from publicists about parties and gift lounges totally removed from the film festival itself. This has been the problem for years. You know things are bad when blogs are reporting that there are parties to watch the Giants game. Paris Hilton has arrived, which means the film festival is over.

So many films didn’t make Sundance this year–like Terry George‘s very funny Irish comedy, and Larry Kasdan’s comedy with Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline. “Greetings from Tim Buckley” with Penn Badgley also didn’t make it. Paramount should have held “Young Adult” for Sundance, too. Still unscreened is Helen Hunt having sex with a guy (John Hawkes) who’s attached to a dialysis machine. But films featuring Bruce Willis and a few other minor stars are getting panned left and right in the trades. Catherine Zeta Jones failed to make the trip at all.

Today a lot of press will decamp back to L.A. for tomorrow’s Oscar nominations.

I love Sundance. Despite the snow, the $12 cab rides, the art gallery paintings of bears chomping on fish–it’s a great town. The volunteers are the nicest people. But Sundance 2012 doesn’t sound like it’s working out. Really, another Neil Young documentary by Jonathan Demme? Rust doesn’t sleep apparently.

You can’t point fingers. No one is to blame. I heard some good things about Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts,” which sounds like it could be this year’s “Garden State.” But without a breakout hit by Monday, Sundance 2012 may be best remembered for Spike Lee’s meltdown and dinner at the Wahso restaurant than anything else.

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